Climate Forecast Lessons from Dorian

Although I am a meteorologist with over 40 years of experience, I have been told that does not qualify me to have an “expert” opinion on the science of climate change.  Nonetheless, I believe my background and experience qualifies me to make a few points about the model-based projections of climate change relative to the forecasts for Hurricane Dorian.  Don’t ever forget that model projections are the basis for the “climate crisis” rhetoric that we are bombarded with on a daily basis.

A quick internet search found this very well done forecast for Dorian on August 29, 2019.  Meteorologist Tim Pandajis from WVEC Channel 13 in Norfolk, VA explains the current status of the storm on August 29, the forecast for the next several days, but also explains many of the reasons why the forecast is uncertain.  I particularly liked his explanation because it includes spaghetti plots.  At 8:04 in the video he shows how different models are seeing things differently and his presentation shows how different models predict how the storm will move and the timing.  Of course as it turned out Dorian behaved quite differently than any of the forecasts.

Given the constant changes to the forecasts for Dorian I am sure many recall the old saying that meteorology is the only profession where you can be wrong most of the time and still keep your job.  Reality is much different.  For me there are two things to keep in mind.  On September 1 the storm reached peak intensity but it also stalled.  The forecast intensity for the rest of the storm only went down when it became obvious that the storm intensity was going down.  The reason the intensity went down is that the hurricane sat in one place for so long that it brought cold water up to the surface.  Hurricanes need warm water to maintain intensity or grow and the cold water affected the intensity.  It is interesting that the models did not incorporate that effect or did not incorporate enough of that effect.  However, I am confident that the models will be revised to address that in the future.

When I graduated with my MS of in meteorology in 1976 three to five-day forecasts were not that good but they have improved a lot.  I ascribe that improvement in large part because weather forecasts are always being tested.  Whenever there is a poor forecast the models and the forecasters learn from that and improve their products going forward.  The climate forecasts that predict imminent and inevitable climate catastrophe do not have that advantage.  The National Weather Service defines 30-year averages as a climatic normal.  Using that time-period a climate model forecast should be tested against a 30-year weather average of observations.  Clearly there are many fewer opportunities to test a climate forecast model as opposed to a weather forecast. In addition, my experience with simpler models is that you can get the “right” answer for the wrong reason.  Weather forecast models address this problem by the large number of tests.  If they adjust the model for the wrong reason it may work once but the error will show up later so a different adjustment is tried until they get it right.  Climate models will never be able to correct if they have the wrong reason in our lifetimes.

The final lesson from Dorian is forecasting uncertainty.  As Tim Pamdajis showed with spaghetti plots in his presentation there was enough uncertainty to make a difference on hurricane response actions to take for the forecasts on August 29.  On the other hand, the climate model projections are portrayed in the media and by advocates as absolutely certain.  None of the caveats provided by the modelers are acknowledged in the hue and cry about a climate emergency.  The reality is that there are a range of modeled projections for future climate and, for the most part, only the most extreme impact results are publicized and those are the ones that are the basis for the “climate emergency”.

These lessons from Dorian support my belief that climate model forecasts cannot be trusted enough to believe that there is a climate emergency.  I am not alone.  Richard Lindzen commented on climate modeling for greenhouse gas effects:

“Here is the currently popular narrative concerning this system. The climate, a complex multifactor system, can be summarized in just one variable, the globally averaged temperature change, and is primarily controlled by the 1-2% perturbation in the energy budget due to a single variable – carbon dioxide – among many variables of comparable importance.  This is an extraordinary pair of claims based on reasoning that borders on magical thinking.”

My takeaway message from Dorian.  Everyone has experience with weather forecast model predictions.  Intuitively I imagine most people have some suspicions about the validity of any predictions of the climate in 100 years.  This post illustrates reasons why those suspicions are well-founded.  In no way does that mean that the climate is not warming or that greenhouse gas emissions might not have an effect in the future.  However, in my opinion the imminent, inevitable climate catastrophe forecast is a very low probability for this and many other reasons.  If you want to do something to reduce potential climate impacts then do the “no regrets” like energy conservation and energy efficiency, and invest in research to make carbon dioxide free energy production cheaper than energy production from fossil sources which would make conversions a no regrets solution.  Unfortunately this is not the message from any of the Democratic candidates for President.

One final point relates to the effect of global warming on the storm itself.  I am sure you have heard the stories that Dorian supports the catastrophic concerns.  I don’t have time to address this in particular but I believe that the following refute the proposition that Dorian is somehow indicative of a global warming crisis.

    • Judith Curry “Alarmism enforcement” on hurricanes and global warming argues that there are a few climate scientists whose behavior “is violating the norms of science and in my opinion is unethical”. She also provides links to two papers from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Task Team on Tropical Cyclones that do not support the crisis allegation:

Tropical Cyclones and Climate Change Assessment: Part I. Detection and Attribution

Tropical Cyclones and Climate Change Assessment: Part II. Projected Response to Anthropogenic Warming

Author: rogercaiazza

I am a meteorologist (BS and MS degrees), was certified as a consulting meteorologist and have worked in the air quality industry for over 40 years. I author two blogs. Environmental staff in any industry have to be pragmatic balancing risks and benefits and (https://pragmaticenvironmentalistofnewyork.blog/) reflects that outlook. The second blog addresses the New York State Reforming the Energy Vision initiative (https://reformingtheenergyvisioninconvenienttruths.wordpress.com). Any of my comments on the web or posts on my blogs are my opinion only. In no way do they reflect the position of any of my past employers or any company I was associated with.

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